Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Live Blogging from AWEA WINDPOWER: Opening session

I was invited back to blog at the American Wind Energy Association’s WINDPOWER conference this year, this time in the Windy City itself, Chicago. The conference is almost twice as big it was in 2008, with 17,000 attendees and 1,200 exhibitors from 48 states and 46 countries. It looks to be a higher percentage of men this year, too (that’s my own unofficial stat).

Denise Bode, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), welcomed the thousands of us this morning at the McCormick Center. She's a huge force of energy and enthusiasm - even if most of the crowd this morning this wasn't quite ready to stomp and shout "YES RES!" like she asked (referring to a national renewable energy standard).

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley boasted about the great strides their state and city have made in renewables and pitched all the companies in the crowd to do business in their state.

The crowd seemed to get a bit more animated for the U.S. Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar, who declared "For the first time, you have a friend in the Interior with respect to renewable energy." He assured us that it will not be business as usual in Washington; the backlog of getting projects permitted was "not acceptable" and President Obama's 2010 budget creates four renewable energy offices across the West specifically to get these projects moving and built.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chair, Jon Wellinghoff, offered a frank and realistic assessment of balancing the nation's energy portfolio with more renewables:
"It takes time...I know we can pass a renewable energy standard in this country. But what happens once we get one? We can’t stop there; there’s more we have to consider.”
He then outlined the next steps the country needs to take:
  1. Transmission: A renewable energy standard - which requires the nation to get a certain amount of its energy from renewables by a certain date - will not get us the transmission that is critical to making this happen. The highest-stressed areas of the grid are in the West and East, and we cannot continue to incrementally add renewables to that infrastructure. (for some great maps of the U.S. electrical grid and its power sources, check out National Public Radio)
  2. Understand the use and integration of the demand side: We waste a tremendous amount of energy in this country. We need demand response, distributed generation and storage.
  3. Smart grid: We have to enable consumers - and their plug-in electric vehicles and refrigerators - to communicate with the grid. This will make the grid more robust, efficient and allow more wind on the grid.
Thanks to AWEA and the friendly McCormick Center folks for a great start to the conference.

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